Cartilage Free Captain is starting its annual series of reviewing the players of Tottenham Hotspur and how they performed in the last Premier League season. This is the first player review for the 2016-17 campaign. Today's subject: center back Jan Vertonghen
Appearances: 42 (33 EPL, 3 FA Cup, 5 UCL, 1 Europa League)
Goals: 0 (tear emoji)
Cards: 6Y, 0R
What went right?
You can probably break Jan Vertonghen’s Spurs career into three separate phases:
- The Gareth Bale/Left Back Phase: This is his first season at the club when he played alongside Bale and added some much-needed attacking power from both center back and, often, left back. He scored goals, rampaged forward, and looked like the sort of world-beater Ajax defender we thought we were getting all along.
- The Bad Body Language Phase, which was his second and third seasons with the club under Andre Villas-Boas, Tim Sherwood, and Mauricio Pochettino in which he never looked quite as sharp as in his first year and in which Spurs fans frequently worried about his commitment to the club due to his obvious on-field frustration. Some of this was dumb fan hand-wringing, but it’s also true that his performance in years two and three dropped off from the heights he hit in year one.
- The Toby Alderweireld Phase, which has been the past two seasons. Reunited with former Ajax teammate and Belgian international teammate Toby Alderweireld, Vertonghen has once again looked like an elite ball-playing center back.
That said, if Alderweireld was the story of last season’s back line, Jan may deserve to be the story this season. Though Alderweireld was outstanding, Jan played (marginally) more games and also helped balance out Spurs attack after Danny Rose’s injury.
In fact, we should say a bit more about that: It wasn’t just that Jan thrived in that left-sided CB role in the back three, though he did. He also put his own twist on the role which gave Spurs another attacking threat. For stretches of the second half of the season, Jan almost played like a box-to-box center back. With Danny Rose out and the slower Ben Davies in his place, Jan began making more rampaging runs forward to support the attack in Rose’s absence.
This worked beautifully as it freed Davies from the need to push forward so far, something he’s not as good at doing given his lack of pace. His runs from deep also often broke up the defensive structure of the opposition as they had to figure out who was supposed to be marking the center back when he barged into the attacking third. Though Jan did not score a goal all season, he came close on multiple occasions and could easily have ended the season with multiple goals.
What went wrong?
Basically nothing. This was Jan’s best season at Spurs and certainly his best season since his first. His versatility played a huge role in the team’s ability to adjust to a new system and to compensate for Rose’s absence for the second half of the season. He also avoided injuries for the most part as well as any suspensions. It’s really hard to find anything to criticize in Vertonghen’s performance this season. Sure, a few goals would have been nice, but the problem there seems to have been mostly about a Manchester United-like run of unlucky finishing. It says a lot about how good he was this year that the worst thing we can reasonably say about one of our starting center backs is that “he had bad luck in front of the opposition’s goal.”
Jan is under contract until 2019 and has shown no signs of wanting to leave. Hopefully he and Toby will still be the first choice defensive pairing not only next season, but for 2018-19 as well as we move into the new stadium.
Rating: 5 chirpys